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Concerned Sierra Club to stand up for Starved Rock State Park

by Alicia Swanstrom
Oct 25, 2012


Illinois Sierra Club

With an upcoming Sunday rally at Starved Rock State Park, the Illinois Sierra Club hopes to encourage residents to find their voice and share their concerns about proposed mining operations by Mississippi Sand.

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Email with "Mississippi Sand" in the subject line before Nov. 18 to submit a comment to the Illinois EPA.

More than 100 people are expected to arrive at scenic Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County Sunday to speak out against Mississippi Sand’s proposed 200-acre mining and processing plant just outside the park.

The company's planned operations, east of the park along state Route 71 in the city of Ottawa, would produce frac sand. The sand would subsequently be used in a process to release natural gas called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Once blasts creates cracks in the Earth's soft shale rock, the sand prevents the shale from collapsing on itself by propping open fractures to allow an easy flow of natural gas.

The event, organized by the Illinois Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization, includes two hikes beginning at 9 a.m., a driving tour through the 2,500-acre park, and a 1 p.m. rally.

“It will be a platform for people to come up and speak their mind,” said Tracy Yang, clean water organizer for Sierra Club. “A lot of people feel like they’re powerless when it comes to this mine. Our goal is to give power back to the people.”

Air quality has been the major concern people have expressed to the Sierra Club, in addition to water quality, noise and natural aesthetic quality, Yang said.

“One adjacent landowner has a beekeeping business and sells honey for a living,” said Yang. Silica dust from mining frac sand can drift for miles. “We don’t know how that’s going to affect their bees or their business, and other people are really concerned about how the silica dust will impact their health.”

Mike Harsted, director of LaSalle County Environmental Services and Land Use, said roughly 12 homes, within a half-mile, could be directly affected by Mississippi Sand’s operations. Some of them are already affected by other mining operations, he said.

Although zoning of these mining areas didn’t begin until 2006, Harsted said many mines have been in operation since the 1930s that are much larger than the Mississippi Sand site.

“Ottawa Silica is already mining 1,500 to 2,000 acres in the same area,” said Harsted. That’s seven to 10 times larger than the 200 acres to be used by Mississippi Sand. The 200 acres comprises multiple 80-acre parcels.

At full capacity, the mine would create approximately 50 jobs for Ottawa, said Mississippi Sand President Tony Giordano. The city has a population of just over 19,000, according to 2010 census data.

“Mississippi Sand continues to remain optimistic about our project in Ottawa," Giordano wrote in an email. "We know that our project will provide an outstanding benefit to the community and the local economy.”

The rally for Starved Rock comes just more than a week after a draft of Mississippi Sand's final permit was posted on the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s website Friday. The permit, required by the Federal Clean Water Act, would stipulate the manner in which Mississippi Sand can release discharge, containing pollutants, into Horseshoe Creek. The creek runs through Starved Rock State Park and into the Illinois River.

The permit is the last one Mississippi Sand is required to obtain before mining can start, though operations are not expected to begin until Spring 2013, Harsted said.

A 30-day comment period for the permit, which ends on Nov. 18, has not elicited many comments, according to Maggie Carson, Illinois EPA communications manager. The agency could not provide an official number at this time.

The Illinois Sierra Club plans to submit a comment. The organization has previously issued a citizens’ complaint letter on this project and attended EPA public sessions, Yang said.

Starved Rock State Park gets more than 2 million visitors annually.